Three Frugal Living Tips for College Students

by Tracy · 12 comments

College isn’t just about academics; for many students going off to university is the first time they’ll be on their own and fully in charge of buying their own food, toiletries and other necessities of life. Even if they are getting financial assistance from their parents, most college students will find themselves having to make do on a tight budget.

While many college students turn to credit such as balance transfer credit cards or private student loans to fund their lifestyle, many of today’s young people have learned a lot by watching the current financial crisis unfold. Instead of running up debt, they are looking for ways to make do with what they have. If you are one of these students, here are a few tips to get you started on living a frugal life.

1. Learn to get comfortable with asking. It’s easy to talk yourself out of asking for help or clarification. A lot of us have grown up with the idea that it’s better to give the appearance of knowing everything and that it’s shameful to talk about money. This can make asking questions intimidating.

The good news is that the more you practice asking questions, the easier it becomes. It is also a skill that will benefit you in many areas of your life, not just being frugal.

By asking questions you can find out everything from the availability of student discounts to finding out which books are really necessary to getting the heads up on a part time job. Learning to ask questions allows you to be proactive about finding deals, spending wisely and identifying opportunities.

2. Look for alternative transportation. Owning and operating a car is a significant expense so if there is any way possible to avoid it while you are in school, go for it. Walking and biking as much as possible is not only frugal, it’s also good for your health and the environment.

Learn how to use the campus shuttle system and local public transportation when time, weather or distance is a limiting factor. For occasional trips where a car is necessary, getting a ride from a friend, renting a car or calling a cab might be good options.

If you decide to leave you car at home during the school year, talk to your insurance agents about your options for saving on coverage during the time you won’t be driving.

For those who require a car, don’t fall into the trap of buying more car than you can afford. A safe reliable car is worth a bit of extra money over a hoopty, but don’t carry that over into thinking that means you should get the best car you can talk somebody into financing for you. Don’t forget to consider gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs and registration costs into your budget.

3. Be a leader. It’s alarmingly easy to blow all of your money in college by following the crowd. Nobody wants to be left out, but all those meals out, movies at the theater, club cover charges and road trips can add up fast. While sometimes you’ll simply have to bow out of things you can afford, do your social life a favor by being the friend that always has great suggestions for the group that just happen to be free or very low cost.

Keep your eyes open for free events on campus or discounts for college students. Don’t be shy about calling everyone in your book on a sunny afternoon to have a picnic in the park or go for a hike.  Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to spend a lot of cash to have a social life.

Some of your friends might not want to or need to save money, and that’s fine, too. Do invite them along to the activities you can afford and don’t feel embarrassed that you can’t always go with them to expensive events. You’ll find that you’re able to have a wide, diverse group of friends if you are proactive about staying in touch and finding things to do that everyone can afford.

Do you have any frugal living tips for college students? Please share in the comments so that the young adults in the audience can benefit from your experience!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

alysa@impulsesave.com August 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

Another good thing to know is that a lot of college campuses are getting zipcars, which students rent with a slight discount (over their normal prices), for those occasions when you just have to drive somewhere. You can get them by the hour for short trips, so you’d save on traditional car rentals!

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Jewelsmom August 7, 2011 at 11:59 am

Better yet, get a used bike & bike lock. It’s eco friendly.

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Tangurena August 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm

By the time you are in college, it is a bit too late for this advice, but I strongly recommend taking as many AP courses and exams as you can in High School. Each 3-credit college level course is going to run you $600-$1000 for in-state tuition, and several times that if you are out-of-state, so if you can score well on the $87 test, you will save a lot of money on some of your core classes. You could easily test out of one semester’s worth of classes, and maybe 2.

I’m working on (yet another) bachelors degree, and a part of my (mandatory) student fees pay for a semester-long transit pass for the local public transportation system. Take a close look at all the add-ons that get tacked onto your tuition, and take advantage of them. For my school, the “bus pass” is merely a sticker that goes on the back of my student ID. Many of my classmates didn’t feel like getting the student ID or the sticker that goes on it (they still pay $71/semester for that bus pass whether they get it or not).

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KM August 2, 2011 at 6:34 am

Totally agree. Those AP courses are incredible investments. I went into my first semester of college with 25 credits, but I also found out about the AP program too late in school or it would have been even more.

And the bus pass is great too. We have a light rail system in Denver that I used every time I went to class. It saved me a ton on parking fees ($3/day on the cheapest lot), as well as the gas to drive to campus. Plus, I could do some homework on the way, or at least close my eyes for a few minutes.

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Kayla August 1, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I am going to be a senior in the fall and I can relate to this article big time! I have watched many of my friends rack up credit card debt thinking they will pay it off with their student loan refund checks..WRONG! That big check gets here and it is gone ASAP.

I have learned that if I can’t pay cash-I don’t buy it. Also, learning how to cook saves a ton of money. Our town has a local paper that posts all of the free events going on in near by areas so we find cheap things to do that way. Also, we have different groups on facebook for getting people together for a game of tennis or capture the flag at near by parks. Free and you get to meet new people!

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KM August 2, 2011 at 6:34 am

Good for you! Great to see there are sensible people out there!

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Jodi August 3, 2011 at 8:28 am

I didn’t buy my first car until I was 22 and out of college, but many of my friends did have cars. Most of those struggled to pay all of their car expenses and they were constantly hit up for rides. By being a considerate friend and helping pay for gas I still saved tons of money and was much more likely to receive future rides. As a non-drinker I made a perfect Designated Driver and I also traded favors for rides, i.e. homework help for a trip to the big grocery story, pet sitting for my friend’s parents in town as a thank you for a midnight run to the ER. Or even just a pan of brownies to show your appreciation. Common sense, courtesy and conservation all in one.

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KP August 3, 2011 at 8:29 am

Make yourself bag-lunches and buy a durable one-quart stainless steel thermos (you can get some quite stylish ones, so you aren’t limited to a construction worker’s look). Cafeteria food and coffees really add up, so you can save a bundle.

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Jodi August 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

I didn’t buy my first car until I was 22 and out of college, but many of my friends did have cars. Most of those struggled to pay all of their car expenses and they were constantly hit up for rides.
By being a considerate friend and helping pay for gas I still saved tons of money and was much more likely to receive future rides. As a non-drinker I made a perfect Designated Driver and I also traded favors for rides, i.e. homework help for a trip to the big grocery story, pet sitting for my friend’s parents in town as a thank you for a midnight run to the ER. Or even just a pan of brownies to show your appreciation. Common sense, courtesy and conservation all in one.

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Jewelsmom August 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Freshman in NMSU dorms MUST sign up for one of three of the food plans for on-campus dining. Although the menus are rotated, it gets old quickly. My daughter would take a zip lock back, fill it with veggies and take it back to her room to make a salad or stir fry on electric plate in her dorm. Many dorms allow mini-frigs, and cooking surfaces as long as they don’t make a lot of smoke, steam (e.g., Forman Grills sets off fire alarms) or open flames. She has a toaster oven too and would make mini pizza out of tortilla crust and veggie toppings.

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Bernard August 22, 2011 at 5:47 am

Get a credit card and start building your credit. You’ll be in a better position credit wise rather than if you got one after college.

Use it for consistent charges…cell phone bill, internet, gas, etc. Don’t use it to go buck wild and charge everything you see…it’s too easy to fall into that debt trap.

But if you’re wise with your card in your college years, that will spill over into your years after college. And, you’ll have access to the better rates for cars and home when you get out.

Now that’s something they don’t teach you in college…

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CA October 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm

You can get a student credit card through your bank or credit union with a credit limit of $500. It allows the student to build a credit history without getting into financial difficulty. That’s what we did for our college student.

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